McKee’s offers the comforts of home


Travis LeClair

McKee’s shepherd’s pie

It’s that sweet smell of stale beer when I walk in. It’s that metronome of sports television – count them, 14, 15 boob tubes.

It’s that jukebox playing country, or rap, or hair metal, 90’s jams, grunge (whoever’s in control, McKee’s is a haven for all).
McKee’s Pub and Grill offers something more precious than her Winooski Circle companions. It’s not Misery Loves ­– go there for a culinary experience. Go to Sneakers or Our House if you’re looking for some above-average grub and fancy cocktails. McKee’s is top-notch mediocre food, a pub with good-time pub fare. Come here to appease the carnal pleasures and kick back.

When I walk in on this cloudy, rainy Thursday, I’m set on some comfort food. My plan is French fries (always satisfying and salty), and fried chicken, (their wraps and crispy tenders never disappoint). I also want to get a buzz on, for cheap.

I walk past the bar where a few rainy-day drinkers sit, past the jukebox, into the big green/brown dining area. McKee’s possesses the best dive bar qualities­ while remaining above the dirty-dive. She’s got that Buck Hunter game, those regulars who’ve come for decades, and the ability to transform.

She’ll go from old drinker haven to multi-gen drinking party depending on the hour. You can walk in and be the only table eating, or walk into the dinner rush full of people seeking comfort.

She isn’t dirty, but she makes sure she’s never spotless. There’s a lovely honesty about this place. What you see is what you get.

It’s limbo hour now. I’m one of three parties eating. My eavesdropping skills are on point – a girl date, three old friends talking about husband/house renovations and new job fulfillment. Young professionals. The other table – work date. The man is going on about Jerald’s usefulness and leadership training. He tells his female companion she’s in the top ten most valuable employees, no lie.

All right, I’m losing focus. Luckily, the waitress (the same as the last time and the time before, before, before) shakes me loose. She brings me a PBR and I tell her my dilemma. With my heart set, I’ve been tempted by their specials, homemade shepherd’s pie and Irish eggrolls.

With her help I realize this rainy day calls for the hot pie and fat rolls.

There’s only one problem: it’s not hot. Well, parts are warm, but one end of my giant plate of potato/beef mash is nearly cold. Along with the corn is an addition I’ve never seen, red peppers. I could ask them to mic it, but I’m not in a fussy mood. I plow in.

Despite the unsatisfying temperature, everything else satisfies. The potatoes are buttery and smooth. The ground beef (or hamburg as my Mom calls it) is juicy and seasoned, maybe with celery salt and pepper. You see, this is a dish that makes me think of home. Like Mom’s, this pie maintains the natural beef oils and the sweet corn juices. There’s nothing more disappointing than a crusty, dry shepherd’s pie.

In contrast to the before-mentioned temp problems, the eggrolls are fricking amazing (and really hot). Steamy, melty. They are stuffed fat with corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese. The four pieces come with Thousand Island for dipping. It’s basically a Reuben in a golden, crispy eggroll wrapper. I watch the cheese string from the roll to my mouth Ninja Turtle style. The thin slices of corned beef keep their presence despite the thick, deep-fried wrap. I relish the greasy goodness.
Now, I’m through my second PBR and have decided I’m going to go all the way. No doggy bag! No thank you! I’m leaving stuffed. I can’t fit another beer in my gut, so I order an Absolut on the rocks. I’m walking home anyway.

I’d mark the garlic bread a wildcard – the only thing that really surprises my taste buds. It’s made on a generic, white, grinder roll – no surprise there. What surprises me is that awesome, slight tang in the garlic butter. It’s a sweet-tang amidst the desired garlic bread goodness. It’s got some cheese flakes on top, a pinch of basil, and the butter-saturated toastiness that I love.

I take a closer look around, on account of my reporter duties. To my left is a wall of framed Red Sox memorabilia, including an old bat and leathery mit. This fades into a framed Bruins Jersey.

On the right wall hangs old snowshoes, skis, other wooden antiques like tennis rackets. There’s an old golf bag. This wall is classier than I remember. Mounted above are evenly dispersed TV’s. They’re quiet now.

What’s precious about this Winooski Circle charm is that you can get full and buzzed without going broke. With tip included, I dropped $31.

Also, I felt very comfortable nursing my big plate of food throughout my hour stay. The friendly waitress cracked a couple of jokes.

McKee’s also has those daily pub specials – beer specials, half-priced appetizers from 4 to 6 p.m. (until 10 p.m. on Mondays), and without fail, a few non-menu specials per day.

This is all in addition to a menu that offers other favorites: nachos, wings (big and saucy), asparagus fries, over 10 burger choices (they’ve got that fake-grill taste added), hot dogs, club sandwiches. Their entrees include a taco platter (one of my favorites), a tilapia fillet, and a rib-eye steak.

Their apps price around $7, their sandwiches/burgers around $9 and their entrees around $12.
The kitchen opens at 11:30 a.m. and serves until 10 p.m (11 p.m. on Fridays). McKee’s offers a Sunday brunch from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Address: 19 East Allen St., Winooski, Vt.